Welsh, Tryw, y Drydon, Troed y dryw, Cwlyn, or Caliwlyn y mel, Cychwlyn, Blaen y conyn or y mel, y Felysig, Llysiau 'r fuddau. - French, Aigremoine. - German, Odermennig. - Dutch, Agrimonie. - Spanish and Portuguese, Agrimonia. Russian, Repnik. - Japanese, Daikon so.
Rosaceae. Dryadece. Agrimonia.
The agrimony, of which we have but one British species (Agrimonia Eupatoria), is a remarkably handsome plant, whose pinnated leaves, deeply serrated leaflets, and yellow apricot-scented blossom spikes decorate the borders of our fields, road-sides, or other waste places, especially on chalk soils, where it forms a very striking "fore-ground" plant; and from whence it is gathered with great assiduity by the village herbalist: for the various uses to which it was formerly applied are by no means forgotten. The modern name of liver-wort, which is applied to it, takes us back to the days when Galen asserted its virtues as a strengthener of that particular portion of the human body. It is still applied, by the country people, to ulcerated sores, as it was in the time of Dioscorides, though I am not aware that it is now con-sidered "good against the bites of ser-pents" as he affirms it to be. A. viridis is given in the old herbals as a remedy for chronic pains; though whether this signifies any particular species, or whether it simply means the plant in a green state, I cannot tell.
The following, how-ever, are the various maladies to which we know it to be familiarly applied: fevers (for which it is a favourite Canadian prescription), asthma, relaxation of the bronchial glands, cutaneous eruptions, weakness of the stomach, - for which, as well as for jaundice, it is probably not without beneficial effect, - agues, inflam-mations of the mouth, and haemorrhages - for the stoppage of which the genuine old formula is of rather too appalling a character to be adopted in the nine-teenth century; consisting, as it does, of "agrimony, pounded frogs, and human blood!" - Yet those who know it best, tell us that though slightly tonic, its reme-dial powers are very limited; on which account - (though still,I believe,included in the London "Phar-macopoeia"), it is not now employed by the medical profession. For my own part, though I ought to be able to speak experimentally on the subject, having been, in childhood, favoured with very considerable quantities of never-to-be forgotten "agrimony tea," I can only hint that I am not at all conscious of being either the better or the worse for it, though I should have been very unwilling to hurt the feelings of my good old nurse, under whose juris-diction it was administered, by affirming this.
The usual mode, amongst old women learned in such matters, of preparing this tea, is by an infusion of the crown of the root, sweetened with honey; but another very favourite one is by boiling the leaves in whey, this mixture being usually given as a cooling "diet-drink" in the spring time. When dried, for winter use, any part of the plant appears to be indifferently applied to its vari-ous purposes, in the form of a powder; while Blanchard in his "Physical Dictionary,"* in which it is to be observed, the physical is used in the sense of relating to physic - recommends that the leaves should be infused in beer or ale.
Common Agrimony. Agrimonia Eupatoria.
The "Stockholm MS." so often referred to,† after thus enumerating uses very similar to these which we have mentioned, viz:-
"To drynkys et playstris [plasters] it is good Ageyn veynymys [venom] et sorys [sores] wood It remewyth postemys [posthumes] dronkyn wt wy, [with wine] And clensyth ye splene et distroith venym:" goes on to tell us of another virtue which, if sub-stantiated, would indeed entitle it to the name of philanthropos which Gerarde tells us it was "called of some," excelling, apparently, even that most ines-timable alleviator of human suffering, chloroform.
* 1702. † See above Art. " Fumitory".
The conscientious old writer however gives us the information with the following caution:-
"Thus telleth ye bok yus [thus] will it do Yow I nozt [not] leve [believe] it, it may be so. How it schulde serwyd be I fynde no bok yat tellyth me;"
When he shews how it serves to procure sound sleep, thus:-
FFOR TO SLEPE WEL.
"Quo so [whoso] may not slepe wel Take egrimonye a fayre del And lay it vnder his heed on nyth [at night] And it schall hym do slepe aryth, [aright] For of his slepe schall he nozt waken Tyll it be fro vnder his heed takyn".
"Zif [if] it be leyd vnder manys heed He schall slepe as he were deed, He schall neuer drede ne wakyn Til fro vnder his heed it be takyn".
To these varied applications of the plant it may be added, that when just bursting into blossom it will impart a nankeen-coloured dye to wool, while later in the autumn it affords to the same material a much deeper and brighter yellow.
Great has been the discussion, amongst philological botanists respecting the name of this plant. The most satisfactory decision appears to be that which derives it from the ancient name, argemone, which was then bestowed on a plant considered remedial in a complaint of the eye called argema; but I believe that it is by no means identified with our agrimony.
Some trace it to two Greek words, signifying, to inhabit a field, from the stations in which it occurs; while some suppose that it is derived from two others in the same language, signifying alone and a field, from its being the "chief, or superior, of all the herbs for its excelling qualities." The trivial, which was formerly in fact the specific name, is taken, as Pliny tells us, from Eupator, the "finder of it out, and it hath," he continues, "a royal and princelie authority."* The name of philanthropos is said to have arisen from the circumstance of the seeds adhering to the garments of the passer-by, as if desirous of accompanying him; but it would appear far more probable that it was bestowed in allusion to its beneficial pro-perties; for otherwise it might be, with much greater propriety attached to a variety of other plants.
The extraordinary number of Welsh names attached to "Egrimonie yat nobyl gres," afford, in themselves, testimony of its supposed value, though the greater part of them do not refer to any of its qualities. Tryw, y Drydon, and Troed y dryw, all alluding to the wren (and the latter signifying wren's foot, to which no part of the plant bears any resemblance), suggest a relationship to some legend, or superstition, now untraceable; as this bird (the symbol of the aspirant to the dignity of druidical priesthood) is still connected with certain mysterious associations in the mind of the Welsh peasant.
* See Hollande's "Pliny".